By Chanel Retief
Some of the best looks in Beyoncé’s 2020 album, Black is King, have come from designers from the African continent. FORBES AFRICA seeks out Queen B’s top picks.
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s brand-new new visual album Black is King that released on July 31 on Disney Plus, boasts an African touch, with many designers from the continent showcasing their work in it.
Out just a little over a year since the release of the live-action version of The Lion King where Beyoncé played the female lead, Nala, Black is King was originally filmed as a companion piece to The Lion King: The Gift soundtrack inspired by the movie, but the singer explains in a post on Instagram that the events of 2020 (specifically, the Black Lives Movement protesting police brutality in the United States) made the message in the film more relevant.
For the “passion project”, Beyoncé spent over a year filming, researching, and editing it as a love letter to celebrate the breadth and beauty of black ancestry.
“I believe that when black people tell our own stories, we can shift the axis of the world and tell our REAL history of generational wealth and richness of soul that are not told in our history books,” Beyoncé said in a post on Instagram.
Since its release, she has been praised for how she has celebrated people of color as a whole in Black is King through the representation of artists (like Pharrell Williams, Naomi Campbell and Lupita Nyongo), background dancers, and African designers.
To help enrich those visuals, Beyoncé’s stylist and wardrobe curator, Zerina Akers, made sure she found the right talent who would create looks that aligned with Beyoncé’s vision.
Akers wanted to reference different traditions, cultures and tribes but with a modern touch. Although she used a majority of black designers, such as Destiney Bleu and Jerome Lamaar, the stylist also sought the artistry of African designers.
One of those African designers is Lafalaise Dion, based in the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire, Abidjan, who designed the shell headpieces seen throughout Black is King.
“Although I had a big vision for [my work], and the faith that I’d be able to take it far beyond Côte D’Ivoire, I never imagined I would get to this level in such a short time,” says Dion. “I am deeply honored, to say the least.”
Known to her followers as the ‘Queen of Cowries’, Dion’s creations were closely aligned with Beyoncé’s inspiration for Black Is King: wanting black Africans to reconcile and embrace African heritage, culture, and spirituality.
“They are artworks in a way, a material representation of dreams I had way before I started the brand. I wanted to do something that emanated from African spirituality,” she says.
Dion designed over 20 pieces for the project and had each piece made by hand in collaboration with local artisans. A dozen of those pieces feature in a song in the film: Brown Skin Girl, My Power, and Water.
“I feel very grateful… It means a lot to a young African designer like me. It’s a sort of confirmation that my art has power and that many creatives around the world connect with it,” Dion adds.
The pearl and cowrie statement Lagbaja headpiece created by Dion and worn by Beyoncé in her Spirit music video retails at $270.40. Dion describes this particular piece as a “celebration of women as creative, divine, mystical, protective beings”.
Senegalese-born designer and founder of Dakar Fashion Week, Adama Amanda Ndiaye, wanted to make sure Beyoncé was adorned in a yellow as bright as the African sun in Brown Skin Girl.
“African fashion is for sure more out there now. As a designer and fashion entrepreneur, it’s always a pleasure to expand our brand name and vision. So being able to collaborate with an iconic superstar does help shine light on us and is uplifting,” Ndiaye says.
Coming from a West African country known as vibrant and colorful, Ndiaye emphasizes she wants nothing more than to “promote female entrepreneurship in Senegal and Africa”.
“I feel great, of course, because Beyoncé is an icon not only in the music industry but also for the fashion industry,” she says.
Also basking in the glory of the success of Black is King is Abidjan-born designer, Loza Maléombho, who designed a piece dubbed by Harper’s Bazaar as one of the best looks in the visual album.
The graphic, black-and-white ensemble with gold hardware worn by Beyoncé in Already (part of the film) has received much praise from social media.
“I am grateful for the visibility… It happened with a spike of sales of well over 300%, which is why gratitude is a prominent feeling overall,” Maléombho says.
It’s not difficult to see where Beyoncé may have had her inspiration from to use Maléombho in this project, as former Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland, who also featured in Black is King, had worn a Prussian-blue geometric structured ensemble by Maléombho in June 2019.
“The future of my brand is going to depend on the structure of the industry in Africa overall. Because with growing sales, I need to find solutions for sourcing and production. I don’t want to produce outside of Africa,” Maléombho adds.
She remains hopeful that even with Covid-19, it has provided an opportunity for the fashion industry in Africa to grow collective and collaborative initiatives.
“We [the fashion industry] are more connected, more communicative amongst ourselves. We are engaging in more conversations to find solutions for the future of our industry,” she says. “Africa has a young labor force capacity that if directed intelligently can help propel the fashion industry in the right direction.”
Maléombho’s piece in Already was paired with jewelry pieces created by L’Enchanteur. The mastermind behind this brand are the identical twins, designers Dynasty and Soull Ogun, whose accessories were also seen in the Mood 4 Eva part of the film. Though born in Brooklyn, New York, the twins say their pieces are inspired by their Nigerian and Caribbean heritage.
“Our brand is a lifestyle that encompasses mysticism, science, fairy tales, and a lot of folklore. And this is inspired by our parents’ background,” Soull says. “My dad is Nigerian and his tribe is Yoruba and our mother is Caribbean from the West Indies… And we were born in Brooklyn, Flatbush. So there’s all of this mixture. And I think there’s like a little bit of folklore within that mixture for us.”
The twins created the pieces for Black is King and sent them over to Akers in 2019, unaware of when the film would come out and what pieces would be used.
The ‘unknown’ was the most exciting part of this process for the Oguns because when finally the project was released, they got to watch the final product for the first time like any viewer. The only difference was that not everyone who viewed it got to see how their jewelry was curated into multiple looks in the film.
And they are still in disbelief.
“It comes in waves for me. I was in the car the other day and a Beyoncé song came on and I was like ‘yo, there is this whole film and Beyoncé is really wearing our stuff’,” says Soull.
“When we were creating the work, I don’t think any of us anticipated the climate we would find ourselves in [the Black Lives Movement] but that being said, I think when we were creating these pieces, it feels like it was almost a foreshadowing without any of us knowing it.”
“With this visual album, I wanted to present elements of black history and African tradition, with a modern twist and a universal message, and what it truly means to find your self-identity and build a legacy,” Beyoncé said.
The ode to African fashion continues, transcending borders, even in these Covid times.